Mother, daughter to run in marathon to promote aortic disease awareness
By Frank Abderholden firstname.lastname@example.org | @abderholden October 11, 2013 5:58PM
Beth Hook (right) and daughter, Aubrey Pollesch, run the Warrior Dash.| Submitted photo
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Friends and family members of people with thoracic aortic disease and fans of the late comedic actor John Ritter will come together as Team Ritter to raise funds for the John Ritter Foundation for Aortic Health (JRF) at the ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 3.
The John Ritter Research Program in Aortic and Vascular Diseases (JRRP) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) uses the funds to support research to identify genetic risks for aortic dissections.
To donate, visit Edward Norton’s Crowdrise online fundraising community: www.crowdrise.com/TeamRitterINGNYCMarathon2013.
To see Ritter’s Rules of life-saving reminders, go to http://johnritterfoundation.org/ritter-rules/
Updated: December 11, 2013 3:36AM
Ever see someone blow up a balloon until it pops? That’s exactly what is going on when someone suffers from thoracic aortic dissection, a deadly tear in the large artery that carries blood away from the heart. Comedian and actor John Ritter from “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter” was one of its victims.
Ray Hook of Lake Villa has the same condition, and his wife, Beth, and daughter, Aubrey Pollesch of Ripon, Wisconsin, were chosen to run for the John Ritter Foundation in the New York City Marathon Nov. 3 to help raise money to spread the word about this silent killer.
For Hook, who was healthy by all outward appearances, the moment of truth came in his kitchen. “He had a seizure-like episode. He went face first onto the floor and his arms and legs were shaking and he was saying “What the hell is going on.” He was also sweating profusely,” said Beth Hook.
That started a journey that would take the couple from a local hospital that wasn’t sure what happened to a specialist at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago where he was diagnosed with an aortic dissection and had to have immediate surgery.
John Ritter, 54, was not so lucky, dying after having chest pain on the set of his ABC comedy show. His wife, Amy Yasbeck, formed the John Ritter Foundation.
Hook and his family were shocked. As his daughter Aubrey wrote on Crowdrise, a fundraising site: “In 2005, after being teased for being the only man at his high school reunion without a grey hair and a beer belly, my dad had a seizure like attack. After spending days in the hospital and undergoing multiple tests my dad was sent home — unsure of what really happened.”
But one person at the hospital mentioned a similar type of condition, Marfan Syndrome, and that led them to a specialist at Loyola. Then they connected the dots of Hook’s genetic relatives, his mother and her siblings died in their 50s of aneurysms.
“Although I never got to meet (my grandmother) her death helped saved my dad’s life,” she wrote. Hook had an aneurysm in his ascending aorta that needed immediate surgery, and genetic testing revealed he has familial thoracic aortic disease. With his family history, other members receive regular imaging to check for aneurysms. Hook’s sister and his aunt have been diagnosed with aneurysms and are being closely monitored.
And then in 2011, he was diagnosed with another aneurysm, but he decided to take the chance and not have surgery right away because Aubrey’s wedding was coming up and he didn’t want to miss it if there were complictions. Afterward, he went through his second open heart surgery. “It was an ugly recovery,” said his wife. “He was in the intensive care unit for weeks and he got sepsis and pneumonia,” she said.
Which is why every six months the family gets nervous about his regularly scheduled screening. They decided to run because “Our goal is to get the word out there,” said Hook, a physical education teacher at Antioch Upper Grade School
“I am passionate about sharing my family’s story and making sure that people are aware of connective tissue disorders,” she said, “Knowledge is power.” Her daughter also shares the story, “in the hopes that maybe his story may help save another person’s life — someone who does not know how at-risk they for an aneurysm,” Pollesch said.
Beth recalled how one 40-year-old man was thought to be having a heart attack, but he was having an aneurysm, where you basically bleed out internally. Only they gave him blood thinners and he died even quicker.
Hook and her daughter started running three years ago and they participated in many half-marathons and things like the Warrior Dash, billed as the largest obstacle course race in the world. Her daughter always wanted her to run a marathon and when Hook saw the Ritter Foundation was looking for runners, she sent it to her daughter who simply replied “OMG Mom, let’s do this.”
Hook said she leaned heavily on the Grayslake Running Club as she trained for the big day. “Had it not been for the support crew I would not be where I’m at,” she said. “It’s been grueling,” she added.
The fundraising effort also began and included other family members, like her youngest daughter, Allie, 16, who can’t run because of impending hip surgery, but who made no-slip headbands from ribbon and velvet. She sent them to people and directed a $5 donation to the foundation, which most people not only paid, but added to as well. Her work was recognized by Chicago’s ABC 7 Summer of Service Awards. “She is really a part of it,” said Hook. Even her 80-year-old mother, Carole Berg, and Janice Geiske, Ray Hook’s sister, pitched in and made dish towels by hand that were sold on the website.
“They sold out,” she said, referring to both the headbands and dish towels.
According to The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, aortic dissection has been ranked as high as the 15th leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for nearly 15,000 deaths annually. The majority of these deaths are preventable if individuals at risk are identified and the aortic disease is properly managed.